I have a lot of opinions.
No, seriously, I do.
I’m not shy about sharing my opinions either. I make statements and pose questions all the time about what I think we ought to be doing, or saying, or looking at as a movement. I have plenty of advice for candidates and politicians and party leaders. I write a lot of those things down here, or on social media – things I want to challenge people with, things I want to have conversations about, things I think maybe nobody else is talking about.
And I have a lot of opinions about the conservative movement, especially about the people moving around within it. Those I’m much less likely to broadcast.
Why would I do that? Why would I hold back like that? Why would I muzzle myself when it comes to criticism within the ranks? Am I afraid to speak my mind? Am I some kind of coward?
If you know me, you know that’s a laughable statement. I’ve earned quite a reputation for speaking out against politicians, elected officials, and others in positions of power. I’ve done it from stages in front of thousands, in my writing online, and in person from across a table. And I’ve done it at substantial personal and political cost. So before the ‘chicken’ label gets applied to me, you can dump that one right overboard. I’m not afraid to speak the truth, and I have a record to prove it.
But ‘Truth’ is getting tossed around a lot these days, and I believe it’s stripping meaning from the word. People are holding up their opinions as ‘Truth’ and then looking for the facts or anecdotes to support what they want to believe. And people are making heroes of others who say the things they want to say themselves, but don’t have a megaphone with which to do it.
There’s a particularly nasty brand of ‘truth-telling’ that’s cropping up in which ‘Truth’ is more often a weapon than an objective thing of which we ought to be in pursuit. And what’s crazy to me is that people KNOW this in their lives, and yet in politics they do it anyway. Husbands are typically too smart and/or kind to tell their wives flat out: ‘You look fat in that dress.’ Yet we see just this sort of ‘truth-telling’ in politics all the time.
And that’s exactly why I often refrain from just saying whatever comes into my head. I’m concerned about preserving relationships, not merely stating factual things. I’m hoping to retain allies, not form armed camps within the movement.
So that’s how I arrive at this weird place in which a writer lauded for bombastically ‘Speaking The Truth’ criticizes a presidential candidate who bombastically ‘Tells It Like It Is.’ If the stakes weren’t so high, this would be much more amusing.
Truth matters. Our loyalty should be first and foremost to the truth – the actual truth – rather than to the person we think is telling it. Even the writer gets this:
These days, many people want their opinions repeated back to them, but they do not want truth. They say they do, but they do not. They hunger for validation, not illumination. They want to be in the dark, where it is narrow and constricting and dull, but at least they are safe, or so they think.
Of course, everyone will claim they respect someone who tries to speak the truth, but in reality, this is a rare quality. Most respect those who speak truths they agree with, and their respect for the speaking only extends as far as their realm of personal agreement. It is less common, almost to the point of becoming a saintly virtue, that someone truly respects and loves the truth seeker, even when their conclusions differ wildly.
I agree with that entirely.
But at the same time, what this writer (and also this candidate he’s criticized) have often done is mistaken proclamation for persuasion.
For instance, I’ve said for years that the words of the Constitution are not magical. They hold no special power to ward off those who would violate the ideals contained within, to thwart those who would edit or reimagine the rights enumerated in it. One cannot speak liberty into being; one must fight for it, and perpetually guard it.
And thus, confronting the Institutional Left agitators and activists (and presidents, and attorneys general) who conspire to curtail those rights with a pocket Constitution and a chant of ‘You May Not Do This’ IS NOT ENOUGH TO STOP THEM.
They can only be stopped when enough people work together to make it politically impossible for them to continue. We don’t have those numbers now. We need those numbers. We must do what it takes to get those numbers. We must convince people of the truth, and then of the need for them to take action.
We must PERSUADE them. We must learn how those people see the world now; then we can better know how to help them see it more clearly. We must listen to them to discover where they might be mistaken or how they have been ‘leftwashed’; then we can figure out how to walk them towards a better understanding of politics and policy.
Both this writer and this candidate have displayed behavior that screams ‘I’m right – deal with it!’ There might be elements of truth in things that they say, sure; but without the compulsion to persuade those outside their circles of influence, the most I think they accomplish is to encourage people on all sides to further dig into their positions.
Persuasion takes time – that’s why it’s vitally important that we not merely leave it up to candidates during a presidential race. We have to take on the job of becoming persuaders for the movement in our everyday lives. It takes a desire to understand the differences between our positions and a dedication to learning the best ways to reach others. It takes study – a devotion to learning about the issues and arming oneself with facts AND techniques to get others to be receptive to them. And it takes kindness – the belief that not everyone who disagrees with me is my enemy, but instead a potential ally, or maybe even a potential convert.
Plenty of people see strong words and bold stances and automatically appreciate that as ‘fighting.’ And in many cases, fighting does look like that. But consider that Covert Action – attempting to persuade people who are apolitical or who have been ‘leftwashed’ – is also ‘fighting.’ Just because one chooses his words more carefully or tries to avoid putting up barriers that make others less likely to listen does not mean that person is fighting any less hard than the famous personality with a megaphone. The measure of one’s dedication ought not to be the volume at which they bellow their beliefs, or the amount of anger they display.
Truth can be a very effective weapon. It can be a beacon that lights someone’s way, or it can be a bludgeon used to divide and dispirit people who should be allies. We need far more beacons than bludgeons if we are going to win people over to our cause.